Thursday, October 02, 2014

Another Two-Edged Sword

Bombing ISIL in Syria as well as other jihadis who fight Assad is somewhat distressing to rebels who fear they are going to be the last one standing when the music stops. Let's apply a no-fly zone to Syria.

Syria is exploiting the optics of American planes bombing Sunni jihadis in Syria:

As U.S. warplanes bomb his enemies in Syria's east, President Bashar al-Assad has set loose his own forces in the west, alarming Washington's few friends on the ground and potentially undermining the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State.

Turkey will likely enter the fight against ISIL, and Turkey doesn't want to lose sight of the objective of defeating Assad:

Turkey will fight against Islamic State and other "terrorist" groups in the region but will stick to its aim of seeing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad removed from power, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday .

The advance of Islamic State insurgents to within sight of the Turkish army on the Syrian border has piled pressure on Ankara to play a greater role in the U.S.-led coalition carrying out air strikes against the insurgents in Syria and Iraq.

Turkey's participation seems likely to be both active in the air and possibly on the ground, plus allowing the use of their bases by other nations:

A proposed resolution that would authorize the army to fight the extremists is all but certain to win formal approval from the parliament Thursday. It would allow the U.S.-led coalition conducting airstrikes against the militants to use Turkish air bases, a significant help to the coalition, given Turkey's proximity to the fighting.

It seems to me that we can leverage the humanitarian angle (just as a humanitarian mission was the leading edge of our air campaign in Iraq and then Syria) to reduce the problem of appearing to betray the more acceptable rebels in Syria.

Why not support Turkey's establishment of a humanitarian buffer zone inside Syrian territory protected by Turkish troops and then, at some point in the future, declare a no-fly zone over all of Syria that will mean only we decide who gets bombed?

We could say that we can't have Syrian planes getting in the way of humanitarian aid air drops and combat missions against ISIL and other jihadis we judge a threat to us.

Combined with a buffer zone inside Syria that will be a de facto liberated area for the rebels to have some relative safety, grounding Assad's air force by shooting their planes down or knocking out their air bases and air defenses to protect humanitarian air drops to pro-rebels civilian areas will counter the impression that bombing Assad's enemies is meant to help Assad.

At this point our options aren't really good. And it does risk expanding the war in bad ways.

But allowing the impression that we are on Assad's side to continue risks contracting the war in very bad ways by allowing Assad to win in the west and survive this civil war.

UPDATE: Permission granted and waiting the "go" order:

Turkey’s parliament on Thursday overwhelmingly endorsed a measure authorizing military intervention in Iraq and Syria and permitting foreign troops to launch attacks from Turkish territory, potentially setting the stage for a deeper level of involvement by Ankara in the international war against the radical Islamic State group.

It was not immediately clear, however, how far Turkey is prepared to go to support the military effort against the Islamic State, a heavily armed al-Qaeda offshoot also known as ISIS or ISIL.

The Turks say action isn't imminent.

And the Turks still want the objective of removing Assad part of their action.

Driving on Damascus probably isn't in the cards. Seeing Turks occupy Arabs wouldn't sit well in the Arab world.

And the years delay in ordering such an action has made a direct decisive intervention both easier and harder.

Easier in that Syria's army and air force have deteriorated a lot since the civil war started. And their skill sets are different than you'd need to fight a conventional invasion.

But an invasion would be harder in the sense that maintaining order after defeating Assad's army would be harder because of the proliferation of Iranian-trained militias that fight for Assad and the other irregulars sent to replace Assad's depleted infantry.